Posts Tagged ‘India

08
Jun
13

COBALT BLUE, a novel by Sachin Kundalkar

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The first thing that drew me to this novel was the fact that the author is a reader of Paul Auster- having read nearly everything Auster has written, I’ve often contemplated how an Indian novel with an Austeresque theme would turn out; and incidentally, the novel is set in Pune-a city I lived in for many years before moving to the States-furthering my interest in the book.

Then the plot- a brother and sister falling in love with the same man- is as daring as it is bizarre; daring not because it is a novel about homosexuality set in a culture that’s predominantly homophobic but because it offers a fresh perspective, a window into the life of an otherwise traditional Maharashtrian family profoundly altered by coincidence [a recurring theme in all of Auster’s works].

The book is divided into two parts; the first [and more interesting] part is Tanay’s story, his account of loving the paying guest who remains nameless till the end. The second is Anuja’s story; her cathartic recollections of the mysterious painter who eventually breaks her heart, as he does, her brother’s.  

Sometimes, a common memory is resurrected in both parts, serving to corroborate the characters’ recollections-for instance, both Tanay and Anuja remember an early memory of the paying guest offering change for the Auto; a quotidian event that the author makes significant by having his characters remember it. Another incident involves the painter waving a bra at the girl’s hostel opposite- it’s only when reading Anuja’s story do we learn that the bra is hers; more than risqué humor, I think the author was trying to reinforce the painter’s image as someone who is above prudish conventions, who isn’t embarrassed by acting in a way that’s usually embarrassing for others.

The author’s genius, in my opinion, is in his portrayal of the grief of one sibling versus the grief of the other; while both brother and sister are heartbroken, Tanay’s seems to be the greater injury; this because his suffering is surreptitious- also, the author appears to suggest that societal disapproval in his case, the queerness of it, would be more pronounced compared to the disapproval his sister met with. Another masterstroke by the author is in keeping the sister ignorant of not just her brother’s sexuality, but also the fact that he is her rival. When Anuja assumes that Tanay is depressed because of his concern for her, the author goes to show how easily we take feelings for granted; that her brother was grieving not for her but for her lover was inconceivable to Anuja.

Like Auster’s stories, Cobalt Blue preserves its mysteriousness, leaving me with many questions- strictly speaking, the painter can be seen as cheating on the siblings but given his bohemian nature, his refusal to be stereotyped on the basis of caste as portrayed in the beginning of the novel, I think it’s safe to assume he was, in his mind, free of guilt.  In fact it seemed inevitable that he should leave, that he should possess the will to escape the contempt that familiarity breeds. The title of the novel itself is encountered first through Tanay: “yesterday, when a cobalt blue smudge of the wall ended up in my hand, I wiped it on my trousers without thinking”-the novel also ends with the words “deep-blue water” into which Anuja takes a dive.

Thanks to Jerry Pinto’s excellent translation from the Marathi, Cobalt Blue is an accessible, unique novel by an author I look forward to reading in the years to come.

27
May
09

Polemics and religion

 

dsouza Dr.Naik

 

I am sure there are innumerable zealots but I would like to focus on a Muslim gentleman called Dr.Zakir Naik and a Christian writer named Dinesh D’Souza; while both these men are more or less equally despicable for their religious dogma, the former has a more modest aim of altering current perceptions about Islam  (often at the cost of grossly misrepresenting the truth) and the latter, the grander ambition of totally repudiating atheism or in other words, making a strong case for God.

Dr.Naik, hails from Bombay and has lived there all his life; Mr.D’Souza on the other hand migrated to the United States from Bombay when he was 16. Sporting the traditional beard and cap of Islam, Dr.Naik is a lean man who is old enough to be taken seriously though far too young to be considered senile. Mr.Dsouza is a not unimpressive looking man who, though older, appears younger than Dr.Naik by a few years owing to the absence of a beard. Both men are impeccably dressed, dusky in complexion and are passionate about their respective religions. Dr.Naik unabashedly wears religion on his sleeve while Mr.D’Souza has the  semblance of an academician. As speakers, both men are endowed with tremendous oratorical skills but their approaches to seducing their audiences are essentially different in that Dr.Naik’s speeches are rife with simplistic analogies and inaccuracies of politics and religion while Mr.D’Souza’s debates are sophisticated polemics that make a significant departure from the tiring mumbo jumbo that fanatics usually spill out.

These zealots use different mediums to propagate their views : Dr.Naik is the founder, president and the chief voice of a network called “Peace TV” that is aired throughout the world; Mr.D’Souza is a New York Times best selling author of books like “What is so great about America” and “What is so great  about Christianity” that support his conservative stance. 

Mr.D’Souza’s  systematic approach to laying out the virtues of Christianity, his interpretations of Western Philosophy on religion and his refusal to resort to scriptures to score points might have earned him the admiration of his critics, who mostly hail from intellectual circles and/or are members of the left. Frequently alluding to Nietzsche, Kant, Hume and others, Mr.D’Souza hopes to defeat atheism on its own grounds by exposing its inherent metaphysical assumptions. Though originally from India, his accent is indicative of how long he has been in his adopted homeland, fully embracing its conservative mores. His enemies are the enemies of the political right. He offers a controversial interpretation for the poverty of African Americans and blames 9/11 on leftists. Strong as his arguments may be, under all the sophistry of language, masterful intonation and knowledge is the heart of a person who puts faith before science, religion before humanity. Shrewd enough to be politically correct most of the time, he doesn’t openly support creationism being taught in schools but he is a creationist nevertheless and is opposed to Darwinism.

Dr.Naik, whose quackery apparently extends beyond medicine, offers his nostrums to listeners who are willingly deluded. His target is not the learned scholar or the occasional intellectual but the average citizen who neither knows the art of rhetoric nor the mechanics of argument; to such a person, an out-of-context quote or half-baked research seems impressive enough to qualify as truth. To bolster the drivel he dishes out so eloquently, Dr.Naik operates under a veneer of feigned modesty and false erudition. As a result, the audience experiences a mass epiphany akin to something spiritual and they revere him for the startling answers he offers to age old questions and quarrels such as vegetarianism vs. meat and monogamy vs. polygamy. Although some of his answers may not be entirely ridiculous, they are trivial when compared to the flippant evidence he lays out to “prove” historical riddles and put to rest conspiracy theories; most deceptive of all, when someone from the audience questions him, he reaches into his tool box for the nuts and bolts he needs to tighten his loose arguments, conjuring them up when they don’t exist.

All said and done, having people like these makes life interesting. Dogma aside, these men provide an impetus for atheism to re-assert itself. To give the devils their due, Dr.Naik’s lectures have, on occasion, attacked loose statements like “Not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims”. While he tries to cast Islam in a new light, which is commendable, Dr.Naik takes a dig at other religions, faiths and practices bringing out the fanatic in him.  Mr.D’Souza’s speeches on the other hand reveal a superior orator willing to battle it out till the end, using every subterfuge of language and logic known to him. He may not understand string theory but he is confident enough to make you believe he does. Great talkers as they are, it must be remembered that these are also men who would consign the non-believer to hell without thinking for a second.




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